An emergency tent set up in Padua, Italy (Getty Images)

Bulletin World Weekly: Coronavirus goes global

Welcome to the Bulletin World Weekly, an email exclusively for The Spinoff Members. As a one-off, we’ve put today’s edition up for everyone to read. If you want to get this every week, sign up to The Spinoff Members here.

In the last week, outbreaks of the Covid-19 coronavirus have shaken countries well beyond the epicentre in China. The spread is accelerating, and new cases are seemingly being reported by the hour. As such, by the time you read this some figures may be out of date. The big fear is that it will effectively get out of the control of authorities, after previous containment measures in China showed some promise. More than 80,000 cases have now been confirmed across dozens of countries.

Italy in particular is seeing a rapid spread of infections. CNN reports part of the reason for this is that authorities may have botched their response – the government is pushing back strongly against such suggestions. However, what is clear is that there are now well over 300 cases, particularly concentrated around the northern region of Lombardy, and several cities and towns are in lockdown.

In South Korea, the virus spread rapidly in part because it took hold among members of a literal cult. TIME reports almost a thousand cases have now been confirmed, with about half of those linked to the Shincheonji cult. The outbreak has sparked rapid changes in the big cities like Seoul, with the usually crowded and bustling public transport networks going silent.

There’s also a reasonable fear that some countries simply aren’t being honest about the numbers of cases. One such place is Iran – and for an example of why people might suspect they’re being misled, have a read of the Tehran Times. There, Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani is accusing the USA of using the virus outbreak to ratchet up political and economic pressure on the country. That may well be happening, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the response if part of it involves shifting the blame elsewhere.

Over and above the human toll, the economic impact has been alarming. The Financial Times reports Wall St has now seen two days in a row of major drops in stocks and bonds, amid a warning from the US Centre for Disease Control that it is now inevitable the virus will spread across America. We haven’t yet seen a confirmed case in New Zealand, which is a huge relief. But we can’t escape the economic contagion, with the NZ Herald reporting this morning that there have been smaller (but still serious) drops in value on the NZX.


You need to pay attention to what is going on in India right now. The BBC reports deadly religious violence has broken out in the capital Delhi, in an escalation of a trend over several years towards polarisation and sectarianism. On The Spinoff, the argument is put forward that it is down to a rising Hindu nationalism, backed by PM Narendra Modi and enforced by lower levels of the state. And we need to be concerned about that because as the piece argues, such sentiment hasn’t been confined to India – it’s here in New Zealand too.


It’s all going wrong for the Democratic Party establishment in their bid to stop Senator Bernie Sanders from winning the Presidential nomination. Politico reports moderates and centrists within the party are in a state of panic, in particular after Sanders stormed to victory in the influential Nevada caucuses. He could also take a huge stride towards locking up the nomination next week, with around a third of the total delegates on offer up for grabs on what is known as ‘Super Tuesday’. The next contest will take place on Sunday in South Carolina, and is probably the last chance for former VP Joe Biden to make a stand, having fallen far from his early frontrunner status.


Malaysian politics is in a state of chaos right now, with a dramatic parliamentary realignment taking place. The Asia Sentinel has a thorough explanation of what has gone down, and in particular there is speculation that it reflects a move to cement ethnic Malays as the dominant force in the country’s politics. It’s a detail-heavy story, with a fair few names to keep track of, but one you might have heard of – PM Mahathir Mohamad – is central to all of it. He surprisingly stepped down from the top job, but might have made himself even more powerful as a result.


It looks like UN-sponsored peace talks in Libya are in the process of breaking down, reports Al-Jazeera. The cause of the suspension in negotiations is relatively technical – one side failed to get some of their representatives signed off by mediators – but what it reflects is a deep bitterness and enmity that will be incredibly hard to resolve. This particular phase of the war has been raging for almost a year, with each side receiving significant backing from outside countries. However, Libya has been in a state of general turmoil since 2011, after the US-backed ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.


Here’s a concerning story from Fiji about a way of life being destroyed along with a coastal landscape. The Pacific Standard reports a series of dredging operations have taken place at the mouth of Fiji’s second biggest river, to make way for a mining operation. But the effects that has had on the local ecosystem has been devastating – and what’s more, it cuts against the insistence of PM Frank Bainimarama that the country is only focused on green growth.


Finally, three pieces of good news, which all largely say the same thing even if they’re about unrelated events: CBC reports a multi-billion dollar application to build an oilsands project in Canada has been withdrawn, with climate policy cited as a reason. SBS reports plans have been scrapped to explore for oil in the Great Australian Bight, in an area of biodiversity almost as important as the Great Barrier Reef. And Axios reports that major money-fountain JPMorgan Chase will no longer finance a range of fossil fuel projects, including new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. As I say – all entirely unrelated, but it does rather give you a sense of which way the wind is blowing.


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